Dr. Robert E. Gustafson, who describes himself as “a newcomer” who has “grown to love Erskine in a short time,” was inaugurated as 17th president of Erskine College and Theological Seminary in a service of worship Feb. 16 at the Due West Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
The opening procession included Erskine faculty members and administrators as well as delegates from other educational institutions. Following a welcome from Erskine Board of Trustees Chairman Sam James and an invocation by the Rev. Paul Patrick, greetings were offered by Student Body President Sarah Williamson, Young Professor of Chemistry and Faculty Chair Dr. Howard Thomas, and Acting Dean of the Seminary Dr. R.J. Gore, Jr.
Williamson spoke about why she came to Erskine, saying, “I didn’t want to be a number—I wanted to be a name.”
Thomas said Erskine’s small size, small classes, and good teaching relationships with students, which were evident when he came to the campus to teach in 1976, “continue to this day.” He noted developments since the beginning of his tenure, which have included greater stress on the integration of faith and learning, the completion of two major academic facilities (the Daniel•Moultrie Science Center and the Moss Mathematics and Music Educational Facility) and a curriculum upgrade.
Gore recalled the comparisons Erskine Seminary students had drawn between their time at another seminary and their experience at Erskine. “They taught me what to say; Erskine taught me to think theologically,” one student said. “Their focus is on the faculty; Erskine’s focus is on the students,” another said.
In his charge to the college and seminary, which preceded the installation of the president, the Rev. Lee Shelnutt, moderator of the ARP Synod, spoke about the responsibilities of the ARP Church to Erskine as well as Erskine’s responsibilities to the ARP Church. He said the church “will encourage and affirm” and “come alongside” Erskine’s administration, faculty, and students. On behalf of the ARP Church, he urged Erskine as an institution to “Walk together with us.”
Scripture readings by Dr. Leslie Holmes, provost of the seminary, and Dr. John Basie, provost of the college, preceded the installation of the president and the president’s response.
Participants in the installation included Dr. J. Thomas Hellams, chairman of the Presidential Search Committee, who called that role “one of the joys of my Christian service”; Board Chairman Sam James, who placed the presidential medallion around the president’s neck; and the Rev. James Hunt, chair of the Seminary Committee of the board, who offered the prayer of installation.
In his inaugural response, Gustafson called Erskine “a beautiful place in a bucolic setting” and described it as “a close-knit, relationally rich community.” In addition to gaining academic knowledge, Erskine students can get to know their teachers and peers, perhaps meet a spouse, and come to know Jesus better or even for the first time. He stressed Erskine’s commitment to the liberal arts and to the education of the whole person.
Gustafson called the seminary “the older brother of the college,” referring to the founding of the seminary in 1837 and the establishment of the college in 1839. Revelation “serves as a corrective” to human reason, he said. Referring to a phrase of philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, he said human reason is “wounded and weakened by sin.” At Erskine, both the college and the seminary are engaged in “seeking truth under the lordship of Christ.”
The benediction was given by the Rev. Matthew Miller, director of Erskine Seminary’s Greenville site.
Musicians for the occasion were organist Rodney Cleveland; pianists Amy Gustafson (daughter of Dr. Robert Gustafson and his wife Marjorie Graham Gustafson) and Hyeyoung Song, both of Duo Azul; and the Erskine Choraleers, directed by Dr. Keith Timms and accompanied by Prof. Tobi Otekayi.
Dr. Robert E. Gustafson was named president in May 2017 after serving as interim president.